653 Haddon Avenue
Collingswood, Camden County,
The Artful Diner
Special to NJ.Com
November 17, 2008
Restaurant Now Closed
Water Lily is an island of calm in the festive, footloose sea
that is Collingswood's main drag. A life-size stone warrior stands guard in the
hushed foyer. The interior, adorned in deep green & burgundy, comes replete
with a large painting that reflects the restaurant's namesake and, on the
opposite wall, an equally large wood-framed mirror that reflects the painting
itself. Colorful, comfy banquettes and the gentle strains of classical music
convey an atmosphere that is seductively sedate.
The establishment is owned by veteran restaurateur Thomas Chen, a native of
Taiwan and former proprietor of Lotus Oriental in Marlton. The power behind the
stove is Fred Cherenfant, formerly the exec at Philly's Alouette.
Mr. Cherenfant also did a highly successful ten-year stint at Siri's in
Cherry Hill prior to its change of ownership. At Water Lily he carries
on in a similar vein, offering diners a first-rate fusion of Asian (most
notably Thai) and French culinary traditions. While the cuisine of Thailand
does enjoy the well-deserved reputation for its fiery reprisals, the degree of
its spiciness varies greatly. And here, for the most part, you may count on
subtlety and finesse taking precedence over the more incendiary elements.
The perfect way to begin your evening at table is with skewers of marinated
chicken satay. This is Thai comfort food, sold by street vendors throughout
Asia; but even this humble dish is beautifully transformed. The chicken is
inordinately tender and succulent, the peanut sauce infused with coconut milk is
decadently rich and creamy, and the accompanying pickled cucumber-carrot salad
the perfect counterpoint to both.
The steamed vegetable dumplings are utterly ethereal and more than meet
their match in an incomparable house-made ginger-soy sauce. Also highly
recommended are the vegetable spring rolls adorned with a sweet chili sauce.
The rings of lightly breaded, crispy calamari are marvelously tender and
presented on a pillow of shredded cabbage. The coup de grâce, however,
is delivered by a drizzle of wasabi-lime dressing. There's just enough heat to
give the palate a nice buzz without setting off any alarm bells. An inspired --
and inspiring -- consummation.
Entrées, of course, have their own rewards. Like the aforementioned satay,
main course chicken selections are always pleasantly plump and juicy. The fowl,
for example, may be grilled and teamed with vegetables in a Thai garlic-basil
sauce (also available with pork as the center of attraction). On the other
hand, a sumptuous Thai curry sauce may provide the finishing touch.
For those with meatier matters on their minds, the velvety filet mignon is
companioned by a zesty raisin, brandy, and black peppercorn sauce; and the
roasted rack of lamb is enlivened with a hint of rosemary and an assertive
Marsala wine reduction.
Treasures of the sea are also not slighted. The shrimp are perfectly teamed
and kissed by a benchmark teriyaki; the jumbo lump crab cake, sweet and
succulent, is encrusted in macadamia nuts and served with an evocatively zippy
creamy lime dressing; and diners may choose either the Atlantic salmon or
tilapia, both embellished with a marvelous brandy-mustard sauce.
And for die-hard traditionalists, the pad Thai is also something of a must.
If improperly prepared, this dish can be heavy and cumbersome upon the palate.
But the rendition proffered here is light, fresh, and totally ingratiating.
The only presentation that failed to live up to expectations was the seafood
medley. The bouillabaisse Mr. Cherenfant served up at Siri's, for example, was
an unparalleled study in aesthetics as well as gastronomy. Shrimp, scallops,
baby lobster tails, and salmon were combined with crunchy carrots and jicama in
a crystal-clear mildly spicy broth redolent of lemongrass. His seafood medley
-- lobster, salmon, clams, shrimp, and assorted vegetables swimming in a
chili-basil sauce on a seabed of capellini -- was also a big hit.
His current combo, however, just seems a bit short of the mark and, quite
frankly, suffers in comparison to his previous superlative efforts. Yes, all
the constituents -- 4 scallops, 4 shrimp, and 3 chunks of salmon -- are present
and accounted for, reclining on a pillow of penne pasta and mélange of
perfectly cooked vegetables. But the ginger sauce is somewhat on the gloppy
side and the taste is rather odd... And that goes double for the salmon, which
is downright fishy.
Desserts come from a variety of sources, including Bindi. The two that are
made in house, however, namely the frozen Grand Marnier soufflé and the crème
brûlée, are both excellent and clearly the way to go. The espresso is also top
notch... rich, potent, and delightfully bitter.
Mr. Cherenfant's culinary creations aren't quite as head turning as they
were during his tenure at Siri's, but they are still attractive to the eye,
pleasing to the palate, and more than reasonably priced. In a community
inundated with dining possibilities, Water Lily remains highly
Hours: Lunch: Tues - Fri, 11:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.; Sat, 12:00 noon - 3:00
p.m.; Dinner: Tues - Thurs, 5:00 p.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Fri & Sat, 5:00 p.m. -
10:00 p.m.; Sun, 4:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; CLOSED MONDAY
Credit Cards: AX, MC, V
Reservations: Recommended on weekends
Parking: Street parking; nearby municipal lots
Price: Appetizers, $5.00 - $9.00; Entrées, $15.00 - $26.00; Desserts,
Handicapped Accessible: Yes